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Becker exits Fairmont Area soccer career at No. 1 in goals

LOCKED ON TARGET — Fairmont Area senior striker Joni Becker (right) focuses on the soccer ball as she prepares to deliver a mid-air shot on goal during regular-season action at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont. Becker exits her prep soccer career as the Cardinals’ all-time leading goal scorer in the 14-year history of the program. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Little did Fairmont Area Cardinals’ head girls soccer coach Matt Nielsen know at the time the significance of selecting a player to fill the final spot on his varsity roster during the fall of 2016.

“She was my 22nd choice — the last spot,” Nielsen reminisced. “We (coaching staff) weighed the options. Would it be a bigger benefit to play her a lot of minutes on the junior varsity or should we keep her on the varsity team, get some game time for her and let her get knocked around a little? She has always been fast, but as a freshman that year, she was not nearly as strong as she is now.

“By the end of that season, however, she had proven herself on the field and was a part of our regular varsity rotation.”

Ironically, Joni Becker never looked back and the rest is literally history — record-setting history for the Cardinals’ girls soccer program — on the heels of the Fairmont Area striker’s senior campaign.

The 5-foot-10 Becker officially became the 14-year varsity program’s all-time leading goal scorer during a 10-0 Big South Conference rout over the Worthington Trojans on Sept. 10 at Kot Soccer Complex in Fairmont. Ironically, Becker would deliver three more goals to finish with a rare quad performance.

“Setting a school scoring record was not even in my mind when I started my fourth year at the varsity level this fall,” said Becker, whose 46 career goals eclipsed the previous all-time twine-finding mark of 39, established by 2015 Fairmont High School graduate Sierra Schultz. “I had no idea what the number was or that I had probably broken it halfway through this season until my dad (Lynn) told me. I actually was more concerned about whether I’d make the starting lineup again.”

“I know that sounds strange, but Joni went into every season wondering if she was playing well enough to be a starter for Matt again,” said Julie Becker, Joni’s mother. “That’s her personality — she’s such a perfectionist, sometimes she doesn’t think she’s doing enough, but that’s what keeps her working to get better.”

And improve, she did throughout her prolific prep soccer career. Joni Becker finished with six goals in 2016, produced a dozen net-finding blasts as a sophomore, tallied 10 more as a junior and capped her record-setting ways with a team-best 18 goals this fall.

“She’s definitely one of the hardest-working players I’ve ever coached, and it’s shown as she improved with each varsity season,” said Nielsen. “I told her once that I could never be as tough on her (evaluating her skills) as she was on herself.

“She’s a person who has high expectations for herself.”

Becker not only elevated the level of her overall soccer game individually, but like a true “most valuable” player, propelled her Cardinal teammates to a plateau never reached in the program’s history.

Becker played an integral role in powering Fairmont Area to the Section 2A championship game during both her junior and senior campaigns. She also exits her prep soccer playing days with an incredible 41-15-4 record, including a 34-7-3 mark from 2017-19.

“After losing 3-0 to Mankato West in last year’s section finals, I felt like we had some unfinished business this year,” said Joni Becker.

Despite losing a pair of one-goal regular-season games to Big South Conference rival St. Peter, Becker and her Cardinal teammates avenged those defeats by producing a 2-0 sectional semifinal win over the Saints in St. Peter on Oct. 15.

“My most memorable game? Probably eliminating St. Peter in this year’s playoffs, and getting the second goal of the game to seal the deal with 5 minutes remaining,” said Becker. “It looked like we were probably going to go into overtime, but Rayah (Quiring) scored on a PK (penalty kick) to give us the lead.”

While Becker earned a spot on this year’s all-Big South Conference’s first team for her overall seasonal performance, she still deems herself as an “in-season athlete.”

“Whatever sport I’m currently playing in is what I focus on and the other two (hockey and track & field) don’t matter when it’s not those seasons,” Becker said. “I like all three, but there are both positives and negatives to all of them, so I really don’t have a favorite.”

While Joni Becker tentatively plans to attend the University of North Dakota next fall and likely major in forensic science or sociology, she does not plan to compete in a collegiate sport despite encouragement from her family.

“My family, especially my parents, would like to see me go out for a sport at college, but we’ll see how much time classes take up next year,” said Joni Becker.

But for now, how did she deal with Fairmont Area falling by a 3-0 decision to Waconia in this year’s sectional soccer championship game?

Becker put her shoulder pads on, laced up her skates, secured her helmet, wrapped the handle of her hockey stick and hit the ice at Martin County Arena this past Monday for a captains’ practice session.

“I like to stay active, and going to hockey practice right away helped me to cope with it (the end of the soccer season),” said Becker. “I think of it as one door closed, but the other two doors are still open to have the opportunity to play hockey and compete in track in the (upcoming) spring.”

Becker and the Fairmont Area girls hockey team open the season by playing host to Mankato East at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at Martin County Arena.

“Some opposing teams have accused Joni of checking when she plays soccer,” Julie Becker said with a laugh.

“I don’t check in soccer,” a grinning Joni Becker said with an innocent look on her face. “They run into me, and I can’t help it if they fall over.”

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